Nov 062018

Elio Ciol Via Portica, Assisi 1958


Pollsters were so wrong in 2016 you’d think they would have changed jobs by now. Yeah, sure. We remember the 97% prediction for a Hillary win, right? And the 92% from the New York Times? Happy days. Now we have the same suspects plying their usual trade again. As if nothing has changed. And that’s a bit of an issue. It would be beneficial if pollsters asked themselves why they got 2016 so wrong, but since there’s been little to no consequence for their livelihoods, they haven’t.

Because of the frenzy whipped out over today’s midterms, with almost everyone declaring this the most important midterms, if not elections, of their lifetimes, more people have participated in early voting, and far more than usual have expressed their intention to go vote.

And so the pollsters look at that and apply their age-old models to it. More people voting is good for the Democrats, as is more early voting, according to them, and so is more young people voting. Ditto for black people, Hispanics. Because that’s how it’s always been. And it’s easier that way than to actually go talk to people about their votes, and the reasons behind these votes.

But it’s as if Trump never happened in 2016, when his performance made that entire polling industry look like useless fools. How about if Trump’s rallies and tweets are a major reason why more Americans, and more young Americans, will go and vote? Certainly doesn’t sound crazy.

Update: after I wrote the above last night, first thing in the morning came this graph from NBC. I feel at least partly vindicated.



The Democrats and their media allies have a bit of a Catch-22 going on. They want to sound enthusiastic and confident about the midterms, but not so much that it will make potential voters stay away. It doesn’t seem to work: they again sound like they got it in the bag.

Moreover, their entire schtick is based on one thing only: Trump. Not being Trump is supposed to be their ticket to ride. They don’t actually have programs or policies, at least not on a national level. They’re simply betting on being able to whip up enough hatred of the Donald.

In a nation as polarized as America is these days, that is both extremely easy and extremely hard. Easy, because the one half of Americans who already despise the man read and see that part of the media that cultivates that hatred from dusk till dawn every single day.

Hard, because there are very few people left who are either on the fence or don’t hate the man, whose opinions could be changed by more of the same kind of ‘reporting’. The chips are down, the lines have been drawn.

If only the MSM could report on terrible economic numbers on top of labeling Trump a racist, misogynist, aniti-Semite, fascist. But the economy -on the surface- is doing fine, and it’s that, stupid. For many Americans, including fence-sitters, that’s what it’s all about.

One of the first things I read yesterday was a headline that said Hillary is still the Democrats’ best bet for 2020. I’m going to have to doubt that there’s a better illustration of what’s ailing the Democrats.

Even as there’s the issue of Schumer, Pelosi, Feinstein, Wasserman-Schultz and Waters still leading that party, while their only challengers insist on calling themselves ‘socialists’, which is to one’s election chances in America what a wooden stake is to a vampire’s odds of survival.


And they would still win by a wide margin if not for Trump. Because the Republicans have the exact same issues. They too are ruled by a bunch of sociopath pensioners who can’t and won’t let go of the thrill of power and the millions slipped to them under the table by banks and insurers and gunmakers.

There’s only one way for the nation to prevent being run by the cast of Cocoon, and that is Trump, and he’s 72 himself. A president has two terms, even if he’s under 50 years old, but Senators can stay forever even if they live to be 100. And changes to that are subject to decisions by that very same crew. It’s a bankrupt system in which voters can and do go bankrupt and politicians are all millionaires.

And yet the systems rolls out all it’s got to protect itself. But it’s gone overboard with that. There has been so much in the way of smear and allegations against Trump that turned out not be based on anything, that the MSM has muzzled itself, prevented itself from reaching anyone other than those who are already in their camp.

That’s what you get for confusing news and opinion. Of course it’s tempting, because it attracted so many viewers and readers, and so much money, but in the end, the WaPo, NYT and CNN have voluntarily given up access to half of America, and with them the Democrats have too. Down the line, that will prove to be a very costly ‘business model’.


In 2015 I predicted Trump would win the presidential elections. not based on his qualities so much, but the lack of qualities on Hillary’s side. This time I don’t want to predict the outcome of the midterms, but I just can’t see the Democrats win, let alone bigly, because they have nothing to offer other than not being the man responsible for more jobs and -so far- slightly, slowly higher wages.

If the Democrats do take the House, they can be expected to go after Trump and his administration, with more investigations in the vein of the Mueller one, endlessly protracted innuendo that doesn’t go anywhere. The polarization might well make America a de facto ungovernable country. If they take the Senate as well, Trump may be a lame duck, and impeachment talk will rear its ugly head again.

If the Republicans maintain control of both House and Senate, they will demand thorough investigations of the Mueller files and much more, like the Kavanaugh accusations. Not a highly desirable thing either, because it will lead to even more polarization. But how much deeper can they dig themselves into their trenches?

Both the Democrats and the MSM have painted themselves into a tight corner. They should engage in a dialogue with Trump, but how do you do that after publicly bashing someone 24/7 for 2 years and change?

That all said, it’s obvious that it truly will be an important day today. The only good outcome, regardless of the vote, would be for everyone to sit down and talk to each other. But what are the odds of that?



Jan 122015
 January 12, 2015  Posted by at 10:14 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  11 Responses »

DPC Chicago & Alton Railroad, Joliet, Illinois 1901

Boy, did the ‘experts’ and ‘analysts’ drop the ball on this one, or what’s the story. Only today, Goldman’s highly paid analysts admitted they’ve been dead wrong from months, that their prediction that OPEC would cut production will not happen, and that therefore oil may go as low as $40. Anyone have any idea what that miss has cost Goldman’s clients? And now of course other ‘experts’ – prone to herd behavior – ‘adjust’ their expectations as well.

They all have consistently underestimated three things: the drop in global oil demand, the impact QE had on commodity prices, and the ‘power’ OPEC has. Everyone kept on talking, over the past 3 months, as oil went from $75 – couldn’t go lower than that, could it? – to today’s $46, about how OPEC and the Saudis were going to have to cut output or else, but they never understood the position OPEC countries are in. Which is that they don’t have anything near the power they had in 1973 or 1986, but that completely escaped all analysts and experts and media. Everyone still thinks China is growing at a 7%+ clip, but the only numbers that sort of thing is based on come from .. China. As for QE, need I say anymore, or anything at all?

So Goldman today says oil will drop to $40, but Goldman was spectacularly wrong until now, so why believe them this time around? As oil prices plunged from $75 in mid november all the way to $45 today (about a 40% drop, more like 55% from June 2014’s $102), their analysts kept saying OPEC and the Saudis would cut output. Didn’t happen. As I said several times since last fall, OPEC saw the new reality before anyone else. But why did it still take 2 months+ for the ‘experts’ and ‘analysts’ to catch up? I would almost wonder how many of these smart guys bet against their clients in the meantime.

I’m going to try and adhere to a chronological order here, or both you and I will get lost. On November 22 2014, when WTI oil was at about $75, I wrote:

Who’s Ready For $30 Oil?

What is clear is that even at $75, angst is setting in, if not yet panic. If China demand falls substantially in 2015, and prices move south of $70, $60 etc., that panic will be there. In US shale, in Venezuela, in Russia, and all across producing nations. Even if OPEC on November 27 decides on an output cut, there’s no guarantee members will stick to it. Let alone non-members. And sure, yes, eventually production will sink so much that prices stop falling. But with all major economies in the doldrums, it may not hit a bottom until $40 or even lower.

Oil was last- and briefly – at $40 exactly 6 years ago, but today is a very different situation. All the stimulus, all $50 trillion or so globally, has been thrown into the fire, and look at where we are. There’s nothing left, and there won’t be another $50 trillion. Sure, stock markets set records. But who cares with oil at $40? Calling for more QE, from Japan and/or Europe or even grandma Yellen, is either entirely useless or will work only to prop up stock markets for a very short time. Diminishing returns. The one word that comes to mind here is bloodbath. Well, unless China miraculously recovers. But who believes in that?

5 days later, on November 27, with WTI still around $75, I followed up with:

The Price Of Oil Exposes The True State Of The Economy

Tracy Alloway at FT mentions major banks and their energy-related losses:

“Banks including Barclays and Wells Fargo are facing potentially heavy losses on an $850 million loan made to two oil and gas companies, in a sign of how the dramatic slide in the price of oil is beginning to reverberate through the wider economy. [..] if Barclays and Wells attempted to syndicate the $850m loan now, it could go for as little as 60 cents on the dollar.”

That’s just one loan. At 60 cents on the dollar, a $340 million loss. Who knows how many similar, and bigger, loans are out there? Put together, these stories slowly seeping out of the juncture of energy and finance gives the good and willing listener an inkling of an idea of the losses being incurred throughout the global economy, and by the large financiers. There’s a bloodbath brewing in the shadows. Countries can see their revenues cut by a third and move on, perhaps with new leaders, but many companies can’t lose that much income and keep on going, certainly not when they’re heavily leveraged.

The Saudi’s refuse to cut output and say: let America cut. But American oil producers can’t cut even if they would want to, it would blow their debt laden enterprises out of the water, and out of existence. Besides, that energy independence thing plays a big role of course. But with prices continuing to fall, much of that industry will go belly up because credit gets withdrawn.

That was then. Today, oil is at $46, not $75. Also today, Michael A. Gayed, CFA, hedge funder and chief investment strategist and co-portfolio manager at Pension Partners, LLC, draws the exact same conclusion, over 7 weeks and a 40%-odd drop in prices later:

Falling Oil Reveals The Truth About The Market

It seems like every day some pundit is on air arguing that falling oil is a net long-term positive for the U.S. economy. The cheaper energy gets, the more consumers have to spend elsewhere, serving as a tax cut for the average American. There is a lot of logic to that, assuming that oil’s price movement is not indicative of a major breakdown in economic and growth expectations. What’s not to love about cheap oil? The problem with this argument, of course, is that it assumes follow through to end users. If oil gets cheaper but is not fully reflected in the price of goods, the consumer does not benefit, or at least only partially does and less so than one might otherwise think. I believe this is a nuance not fully understood by those making the bull argument. Falling oil may actually be a precursor to higher volatility as investors begin to question speed’s message.

How much did Michael’s clients lose in those 7+ weeks?

Something I also said in that same November 27 article was:

US shale is no longer about what’s feasible to drill today, it’s about what can still be financed tomorrow.

And whaddaya know, Bloomberg runs this headline 51 days and -40% further along:

What Matters Is the Debt Shale Drillers Have, Not the Oil

U.S. shale drillers may tout how much oil they have in the ground or how cheaply they can get it out. For stock investors, what matters most is debt. The worst performers among U.S. oil producers in a Bloomberg index owe about 5.7 times more than they earn, before certain deductions, compared with 1.7 times for companies that have taken less of a hit. Operations, such as where the companies drill or how much oil versus gas they pump, matter less.

“With oil prices below $50 and approaching $40, we’re in survivor mode,” Steven Rees, who helps oversee about $1 trillion as global head of equity strategy at JPMorgan Private Bank, said via phone. “The companies with the higher degrees of leverage have underperformed, and you don’t want to own those because there’s a fair amount of uncertainty as to whether they can repay that debt.”

That’s the exact same thing I said way back when! Who trusts these guys with either their money or their news? When they could just read me and be 7 weeks+ ahead of the game? Not that I want to manage your money, don’t get me wrong, I’m just thinking these errors can add up to serious losses. And they wouldn’t have to. That’s why there’s

A good one, which I posted December 12, with WTI at $67 (remember the gold old days, grandma?), was this one on what oil actually sells for out there, not what WTO and Brent standards say. An eye-opener.

Will Oil Kill The Zombies?

Tom Kloza, founder and analyst at Oil Price Information Service, said the market could bottom for the winter in about 30 days, but then it will be up to whatever OPEC does. “It’s (oil) actually much weaker than the futures markets indicate. This is true for crude oil, and it’s true for gasoline. There’s a little bit of a desperation in the crude market,” said Kloza.”The Canadian crude, if you go into the oil sands, is in the $30s, and you talk about Western Canadian Select heavy crude upgrade that comes out of Canada, it’s at $41/$42 a barrel.”

“Bakken is probably about $54.” Kloza said there’s some talk that Venezuelan heavy crude is seeing prices $20 to $22 less than Brent, the international benchmark. Brent futures were at $63.20 per barrel late Thursday. “In the actual physical market, it’s fallen by even more than the futures market. That’s a telling sign, and it’s telling me that this isn’t over yet. This isn’t the bottoming process. The physical market turns before the futures,” he said.

Oil prices have come down close to another 20% since then, in just one month $67 to $46 right now. And it’s going to keep plunging, if only because Goldman belatedly woke up and said so today:

Goldman Sees Need for $40 Oil as OPEC Cut Forecast Abandoned

Goldman Sachs said U.S. oil prices need to trade near $40 a barrel in the first half of this year to curb shale investments as it gave up on OPEC cutting output to balance the market. The bank cut its forecasts for global benchmark crude prices, predicting inventories will increase over the first half of this year.. Excess storage and tanker capacity suggests the market can run a surplus far longer than it has in the past, said Goldman analysts including Jeffrey Currie in New York. The U.S. is pumping oil at the fastest pace in more than three decades, helped by a shale boom ..

“To keep all capital sidelined and curtail investment in shale until the market has re-balanced, we believe prices need to stay lower for longer,” Goldman said in the report. “The search for a new equilibrium in oil markets continues.” West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. marker crude, will trade at $41 a barrel and global benchmark Brent at $42 in three months, the bank said. It had previously forecast WTI at $70 and Brent at $80 for the first quarter. Goldman reduced its six and 12-month WTI predictions to $39 a barrel and $65, from $75 and $80, respectively ..

Well, after that 2-month blooper I described above, who would trust Goldman anymore, right, silly you is thinking. Don’t be mistaken, people listen to GS, no matter how wrong they are.

Meanwhile, the thumbscrews keep on tightening:

UK Oil Firms Warn Osborne: Without Big Tax Cuts We Are Doomed

North Sea oil and gas companies are to be offered tax concessions by the Chancellor in an effort to avoid production and investment cutbacks and an exodus of explorers. George Osborne has drawn up a set of tax reform plans, following warnings that the industry’s future is at risk without substantial tax cuts. But the industry fears he will not go far enough. Oil & Gas UK, the industry body, is urging a tax cut of as much as 30% [..] “If we don’t get an immediate 10% cut, then that will be the death knell for the industry [..] Companies operating fields discovered before 1992 can end up with handing over80% of their profits to the Chancellor; post-1992 discoveries carry a 60% profits hit.

And hitting botttom lines:

As Oil Plummets, How Much Pain Still Looms For US Energy Firms?

A closer look at valuations and interviews with a dozen of smaller firms ahead of fourth quarter results from their bigger, listed rivals, shows there are reasons to be nervous. What small firms say is that the oil rout hit home faster and harder than most had expected. “Things have changed a lot quicker than I thought they would,” says Greg Doramus, sales manager at Orion Drilling in Texas, a small firm which leases 16 drilling rigs. He talks about falling rates, last-minute order cancellations and customers breaking leases. The conventional wisdom is that hedging and long-term contracts would ensure that most energy firms would only start feeling the full force of the downdraft this year.

The view from the oil fields from Texas to North Dakota is that the pain is already spreading. “We have been cut from the work,” says Adam Marriott, president of Fandango Logistics, a small oil trucking firm in Salt Lake City. He says shipments have fallen by half since June when oil was fetching more than $100 a barrel and his company had all the business it could handle. Bigger firms are also feeling the sting. Last week, a leading U.S. drilling contractor Helmerich & Payne reported that leasing rates for its high-tech rigs plunged 10% from the previous quarter, sending its shares 5% lower.

And, then, as yours truly predicted last fall, oil’s downward spiral spreads, and the entire – always nonsensical – narrative of a boost to the economy from falling oil prices vanishes into thin air. You could have known that, too, at least 2 months ago. Bloomberg:

Oil’s Plunge Wipes Out S&P 500 Earnings

While stock investors wait for the benefits of cheaper oil to seep into the economy, all they can see lately is downside. Forecasts for first-quarter profits in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index have fallen by 6.4 percentage points from three months ago, the biggest decrease since 2009, according to more than 6,000 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Reductions spread across nine of 10 industry groups and energy companies saw the biggest cut. Earnings pessimism is growing just as the best three-year rally since the technology boom pushed equity valuations to the highest level since 2010.

At the same time, volatility has surged in the American stock market as oil’s 55% drop since June to below $49 a barrel raises speculation that companies will cancel investment and credit markets and banks will suffer from debt defaults. [..] American companies are facing the weakest back-to-back quarterly earnings expansions since 2009 as energy wipes out more than half the growth and the benefit to retailers and shippers fails to catch up.

Oil producers are rocked by a combination of faltering demand and booming supplies from North American shale fields, with crude sinking to $48.36 a barrel from an average $98.61 in the first three months of 2014. Except for utilities, every other industry has seen reductions in estimates. Profit from energy producers such as Exxon Mobil and Chevron will plunge 35% this quarter, analysts estimated.

In October, analysts expected the industry to earn about the same as it did a year ago. “My initial thought was oil would take a dollar or two off the overall S&P 500 earnings but that obviously might be worse now,” Dan Greenhaus at BTIG said in a phone interview. “The whole thing has moved much more rapidly and farther than anyone thought. People were only taking into account consumer spending and there was a sense that falling energy is ubiquitously positive for the U.S., but I’m not convinced.”

Well, not than anyone thought. Not me, for one. Just than the ‘experts’ thought. But that’s exactly what I said at the time. And I must thank Bloomberg for vindicating me. Don’t worry, guys, I wouldn’t want to be part of your expert panel if my life depended on it. And it’s not about me wanting to toot my own horn either, tickling as it may be for a few seconds, but about the likes of, or and and many others, getting the recognition we deserve. If you ask me, reading the finance blogosphere can save you a lot of money. That’s merely a simple conclusion to draw from the above.

And only now are people starting to figure out that the real economy may not have had any boon from lower oil prices either:

How Falling Gasoline Prices Are Hurting Retail Sales

Aren’t declining gasoline prices supposed to be good news for the economy? They certainly are to households not employed in the energy industry, but it might not seem so from the one of the biggest economic indicators due for release this week. On Wednesday, the Commerce Department is set to report retail sales for December. It’s the most important month of the year for retailers, but economists polled by MarketWatch are expecting a flat reading, and quite a few say a monthly decline wouldn’t be a surprise. [..] After department stores saw a 1% monthly gain in November, the segment may reverse some of that advance in the final month of the year.

This whole idea of Americans running rampant in malls with the cash they saved from lower prices at the pump was always just something somebody smoked. And now we’ll get swamped soon with desperate attempts to make US holiday sales look good, but if I were you, I’d take an idled oiltanker’s worth of salt with all of those attempts.

Still, the Fed, in my view, is set to stick with its narrative of the US economy doing so well they just have to raise interest rates. It’s for the Wall Street banks, don’t you know. That narrative, in this case, is “Ignore transitory volatility in energy prices.” The Fed expects for sufficient mayhem to happen in emerging markets to lift the US, and for enough dollars to ‘come home’ to justify a rate hike that will shake the world economy on its foundations but will leave the US elites relatively unscathed and even provide them with more riches. And if anyone wants to get richer, it’s the rich. They simply think they have it figured out.

Why Falling Oil Prices Won’t Delay Fed Rate Increases /span>

Financial markets have been shaken over the past several weeks by a misguided fear that deflation has imbedded itself not only into the European economy but the U.S. economy as well. Deflation is a serious problem for Europe, because the eurozone is plagued with bad debts and stagnant growth. Prices and wages in the peripheral nations (such as Greece and Spain) must fall still further in relation to Germany’s in order to restore their economies to competitiveness. But that’s not possible if prices and wages are falling in Germany (or even if they are only rising slowly).

In Europe, deflation will extend the economic crisis, but that’s not an issue in the United States, where households, businesses and banks have mostly completed the necessary adjustments to their balance sheets after the great debt boom of the prior decade. The plunge in oil prices will likely push the annual U.S. inflation rate below 1%, further from the Fed target of 2%. [..] Falling oil prices are a temporary phenomenon that shouldn’t alter anyone’s view about the underlying rate of inflation.

On Wednesday, the newly released minutes of the Fed’s latest meeting in December revealed that most members of the FOMC are ready to raise rates this summer even if inflation continues to fall, as long as there’s a reasonable expectation that inflation will eventually drift back to 2%. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke got a lot of flak in the spring of 2011 when oil prices were rising and annual inflation rates climbed to near 4%, double the Fed’s target.

Bernanke’s critics wanted him to raise interest rates immediately to fight the inflation, but he insisted that the spike was “transitory” and that the Fed wouldn’t respond. Bernanke was right then: Inflation rates drifted lower, just as he predicted. Now the situation is reversed: Oil prices are falling, and critics of the Fed say it should hold off on raising interest rates. The Fed’s policy in both cases is the same: Ignore transitory volatility in energy prices.

There are all these press-op announcements all the time by Fed officials that I think can only be read as setting up a fake discussion between pro and con rate hike, that are meant just for public consumption. The Fed serves it member banks, not the American people, don’t let’s forget that. No matter what happens, they can always issue a majority opinion that oil prices or real estate prices, or anything, are only ‘transitory’, and so their policies should ignore them. US economic numbers look great on the surface, it’s only when you start digging that they don’t.

I see far too much complacency out there when it comes to interest rates, in the same manner that I’ve seen it concerning oil prices. We live in a new world, not a continuation of the old one. That old world died with Fed QE. Just check the price of oil. There have been tectonic shifts since over, let’s say, the holidays, and I wouldn’t wait for the ‘experts’ to catch up with live events. Being 7 weeks or two months late is a lot of time. And they will be late, again. It’s inherent in what they do. And what they represent.

Dec 122014
 December 12, 2014  Posted by at 11:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle December 12 2014

Jack Delano Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe train at Emporia, Kansas Mar 1943

IEA Warns On Social Unrest As It Cuts 2015 Oil Demand Growth Forecast (CNBC)
Oil Drops Below $60 After Saudis Question Need to Cut (Bloomberg)
Oil Pressure Could Sock It To Stocks (CNBC)
Fed Bubble Bursts in $550 Billion of Energy Debt (Bloomberg)
Oil Bust Contagion Spreads to Wall Street and the Banks (WolfStreet)
Ruble Consolation Gets Putin Record Oil Income (Bloomberg)
This Has Never Happened Before Without A Drop In Stock Prices (Napier via ZH)
France Drifts Into Deflation As ECB ‘Pea-Shooter’ Falls Short (AEP)
WTF Chart Of The Day: Explaining The Surge In US Retail Sales (Zero Hedge)
China’s Slowdown Deepens as Factory Output Growth Wanes (Bloomberg)
China Tells Banks To Step Up Lending To Lift Flagging Growth (Reuters)
Skepticism Jumps in Options as VIX Rises 70% in Four Days (Bloomberg)
NY Regulator Probing Barclays And Deutsche Over Forex Algorithms (FT)
US House Narrowly Passes Spending Bill, Averts Government Shutdown (Reuters)
US Prosecutors Face New Fallout From Insider Trading Ruling (Reuters)
Welcome To The UK: DIY Burials And Payday Loans For Kids (CNBC)
Crystal Ball: Top 10 Economic Predictions For 2015 (CNBC)
These Are Lies The New York Times Wants You To Believe About Russia (Salon)
Full Scale Of Plastic In The World’s Oceans Revealed For First Time (Guardian)

“Venezuela needs to fill a capital shortfall of around $29 billion next year ..” “.. a currency devaluation would not do much to alleviate the pain. “This is a country really facing a perfect storm.”

IEA Warns On Social Unrest As It Cuts 2015 Oil Demand Growth Forecast (CNBC)

Weak demand and oversupply in oil markets raise the risk of global social instability and the potential for financial defaults, the International Energy Agency (IEA) warned on Friday, as it cut its forecasts for global oil demand growth in 2015. The report came as oil prices slid to new multi-year lows, with Brent crude hitting a 5.5-year low of $63.33 a barrel on Friday. “Continued price declines would for some countries and companies make an already difficult situation even worse,” the IEA said in its new monthly report. Global oil inventories are projected to build by around 300 million barrels in the first half of 2015 in the absence of any disruption, the group said. It estimated that stocks in major global economies could start to “bump” against storage capacity limits.

“The resulting downward price pressure would raise the risk of social instability or financial difficulties if producers found it difficult to pay back debt,” it said. Singling out Russia and Venezuela, the IEA said that further price drops would heighten the financial risks to “highly leveraged” producers, and countries that are heavily dependent on oil revenues. It warned on the threat to international financial stability should the situation in Russia deteriorate to the point of a default. Bond yields and the cost of insuring Russia against a default have risen in recent weeks amid fears over falling oil prices and intensifying sanctions from the West. Oil the country’s biggest export – is crucial for its economy, and influence in the world.

“Lower oil prices significantly dent potential export revenues in net oil exporting countries, slashing their income streams and in turn denting demand,” it said. “In particularly cash strapped economies, such as Venezuela and Russia, this impact is likely to be magnified as the risk of default escalates,” it said, adding that Venezuela’s capital Caracas was currently struggling to make bond payments, fund social programs and pay debts to oil partners. Venezuela needs to fill a capital shortfall of around $29 billion next year, according to Bradford Jones at hedge fund Sagil Capital. He told CNBC Friday that the country was facing a number of very tough decisions and believed a currency devaluation would not do much to alleviate the pain. “This is a country really facing a perfect storm,” he said.

Read more …

“When you see a persistent trend like this you can be sure there are a lot of investors caught on the wrong side ..”

Oil Drops Below $60 After Saudis Question Need to Cut (Bloomberg)

Benchmark U.S. oil prices dropped below $60 a barrel for the first time since July 2009 as Saudi Arabia questioned the need to cut output, signaling its priority is defending market share. West Texas Intermediate crude slid 1.6% in New York. The market will correct itself, according to Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi. Global demand for crude from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will drop next year by about 300,000 barrels a day to 28.9 million, the least since 2003, the group predicted yesterday. Oil’s collapse into a bear market has been exacerbated as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait, OPEC’s three largest members, offered the deepest discounts on exports to Asia in at least six years. The group decided against reducing its output quota at a meeting last month, letting prices drop to a level that may slow U.S. production that’s surged to the highest level in more than three decades.

“The path of least resistance is lower,” Mike Wittner, head of oil research at Societe Generale in New York, said by phone. “This week we’ve had the Saudis cut prices to Asia, OPEC reduced the call on its crude and al-Naimi reiterated that they aren’t cutting output and letting the market do its work. They all reinforce the bearish message.” WTI for January delivery dropped 99 cents to close at $59.95 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It was the lowest settlement since July 14, 2009. Total volume was 14% above the 100-day average for the time of day. The U.S. benchmark is down 39% this year. [..] “When you see a persistent trend like this you can be sure there are a lot of investors caught on the wrong side,” Bill O’Grady, chief market strategist at Confluence Investment Management in St. Louis, which oversees $2.4 billion, said by phone. “They are looking for any glimmer of green as an opportunity to get out of positions. Any moves higher will be of short duration.”

Read more …

“It’s (oil) actually much weaker than the futures markets indicate. [..] The Canadian crude, if you go into the oil sands, is in the $30s, and you talk about Western Canadian Select heavy crude upgrade that comes out of Canada, it’s at $41/$42 a barrel. Bakken is probably about $54.” Kloza said there’s some talk that Venezuelan heavy crude is seeing prices $20 to $22 less than Brent ..”

Oil Pressure Could Sock It To Stocks (CNBC)

With crude sliding through the key $60 level, oil pressure could stay on stocks Friday. West Texas Intermediate futures for January closed at $59.95 per barrel, the first sub-$60 settle since July 2009. The $60 level, however, opens the door to the much bigger, $50-per-barrel level. Besides oil, traders will be watching the producer price index Friday morning, and it’s expected to be off 0.1% with the fall in energy. Consumer sentiment is also expected at 10 a.m. EST. Consumers stepped up and spent in November, as evidenced in the 0.7% gain in that month’s retail sales Thursday. That better mood should show up in consumer sentiment. Stocks on Thursday gave up sizeable gains after oil reversed course and fell through $60. Traders also were nervously watching the progress of a spending bill in Washington, which was delayed. The Dow was up 63 at 17,596, wiping out much of a 225-point intraday gain.

“Oil has pretty much spooked people,” said Daniel Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG. “There just isn’t a bid. With everything in energy and the oil price collapsing as it is, who is going to step in and be a buyer now? The answer is nobody.” Oil continued to slide in after-hours trading. “The selling appears to have accelerated a little bit after the close with really no bullish news in sight,” said Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Associates. WTI futures temporarily fell below $59 in late trading. “The big level is going to be $50 now in terms of psychological support. Much as $100 is on the upside,” said John Kilduff of Again Capital. Oil stands a good chance of getting there too. Tom Kloza, founder and analyst at Oil Price Information Service, said the market could bottom for the winter in about 30 days, but then it will be up to whatever OPEC does. The cartel in November voted to keep its production unchanged in an effort to hold market share.

“It’s (oil) actually much weaker than the futures markets indicate. This is true for crude oil, and it’s true for gasoline. There’s a little bit of a desperation in the crude market,” said Kloza. “The Canadian crude, if you go into the oil sands, is in the $30s, and you talk about Western Canadian Select heavy crude upgrade that comes out of Canada, it’s at $41/$42 a barrel. Bakken is probably about $54.” Kloza said there’s some talk that Venezuelan heavy crude is seeing prices $20 to $22 less than Brent, the international benchmark. Brent futures were at $63.20 per barrel late Thursday. “In the actual physical market, it’s fallen by even more than the futures market. That’s a telling sign, and it’s telling me that this isn’t over yet. This isn’t the bottoming process. The physical market turns before the futures,” he said.

Read more …

A portrait of a bloodbath.

Fed Bubble Bursts in $550 Billion of Energy Debt (Bloomberg)

The danger of stimulus-induced bubbles is starting to play out in the market for energy-company debt. Since early 2010, energy producers have raised $550 billion of new bonds and loans as the Federal Reserve held borrowing costs near zero, according to Deutsche Bank AG. With oil prices plunging, investors are questioning the ability of some issuers to meet their debt obligations. Research firm CreditSights Inc. predicts the default rate for energy junk bonds will double to 8% next year. “Anything that becomes a mania – it ends badly,” said Tim Gramatovich, chief investment officer of Peritus Asset Management. “And this is a mania.”

The Fed’s decision to keep benchmark interest rates at record lows for six years has encouraged investors to funnel cash into speculative-grade securities to generate returns, raising concern that risks were being overlooked. A report from Moody’s Investors Service this week found that investor protections in corporate debt are at an all-time low, while average yields on junk bonds were recently lower than what investment-grade companies were paying before the credit crisis. Borrowing costs for energy companies have skyrocketed in the past six months as West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, has dropped 44% to $60.46 a barrel since reaching this year’s peak of $107.26 in June.

Yields on junk-rated energy bonds climbed to a more-than-five-year high of 9.5% this week from 5.7% in June, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch index data. At least three energy-related borrowers, including C&J Energy Services, postponed financings this month as sentiment soured. “It’s been super cheap” for energy companies to obtain financing over the past five years, said Brian Gibbons, a senior analyst for oil and gas at CreditSights in New York. Now, companies with ratings of B or below are “virtually shut out of the market” and will have to “rely on a combination of asset sales” and their credit lines, he said.

Read more …

“Six years of the Fed’s easy money policies purposefully forced even conservative investors to either lose money to inflation or venture way out on the risk curve. So they ventured out, many of them without knowing it because it happened out of view inside their bond funds. And they funded the fracking boom and the offshore drilling boom, and the entire oil revolution in America ..”

Oil Bust Contagion Spreads to Wall Street and the Banks (WolfStreet)

Oil swooned again on Wednesday, with the benchmark West Texas Intermediate closing at $60.94. And on Thursday, WTI dropped below $60, currently trading at $59.18. It’s down 43% since June. Yesterday, OPEC forecast that demand for its oil would further decline to 28.9 million barrels a day next year, after having decided over Thanksgiving to stick to its 30 million barrel a day production ceiling, rather than cutting it. It thus forecast that there would be on OPEC’s side alone 1.1 million barrels a day in excess supply. Hours later, the US Energy Information Administration reported that oil inventories in the US had risen by 1.5 million barrels in the latest week, while analysts had expected a decline of about 3 million barrels. So the bloodletting continues: the Energy Select Sector ETF is down 26% since June; S&P International Energy Sector ETF is down 34% since July; and the Oil & Gas Equipment & Services ETF is down 46% since July.

Goodrich Petroleum, in its desperation, announced it is exploring strategic options for its Eagle Ford Shale assets in the first half next year. It would also slash capital expenditures to less than $200 million for 2015, from $375 million for 2014. Liquidity for Goodrich is drying up. Its stock is down 88% since June. They all got hit. And in the junk-bond market, investors are grappling with the real meaning of “junk.” Sabine Oil & Gas’ $350 million in junk bonds still traded above par in September before going into an epic collapse starting on November 25 that culminated on Wednesday, when they lost nearly a third of their remaining value to land at 49 cents on the dollar. In early May, when the price of oil could still only rise, Sabine agreed to acquire troubled Forest Oil Corporation, now a penny stock. The deal is expected to close in December.

But just before Thanksgiving, when no one in the US was supposed to pay attention, Sabine’s bonds began to collapse as it seeped out that Wells Fargo and Barclays could lose a big chunk of money on a $850-million “bridge loan” they’d issued to Sabine to help fund the merger. A bridge loan to nowhere: investors interested in buying it have evaporated. The banks are either stuck with this thing, or they’ll have to take a huge loss selling it. Bankers have told the Financial Times that the loan might sell for 60 cents on the dollar. But that was back in November before the bottom fell out entirely. As so many times in these deals, there is a private equity angle to the story: PE firm First Reserve owns nearly all of Sabine and leveraged it up to the hilt. [..]

Six years of the Fed’s easy money policies purposefully forced even conservative investors to either lose money to inflation or venture way out on the risk curve. So they ventured out, many of them without knowing it because it happened out of view inside their bond funds. And they funded the fracking boom and the offshore drilling boom, and the entire oil revolution in America, no questions asked.

Read more …

Makes it look less awful.

Ruble Consolation Gets Putin Record Oil Income (Bloomberg)

While Russia’s plunging currency is becoming a growing concern for policy makers in Moscow, the benefits for the Treasury are swelling as it receives more and more rubles for each dollar of oil export revenue. The CHART OF THE DAY shows that Brent crude sold for an average 3,759 rubles a barrel this year, the most on record, even after the mean dollar price of $101.74 dropped to the lowest since 2010. Russia’s fiscal accounts are benefiting from this year’s more than 40% decline in the ruble as it kept pace with a similar slide in oil, which is priced in dollars.

The government’s budget surplus is 1.27 trillion rubles ($23 billion) through November, compared with 600 billion rubles in the same period last year and 789 billion rubles in 2012, according to Finance Ministry data. It was 1.34 trillion in 2011. “A weak ruble is good for the government budget,” Dmitry Postolenko, a money manager at Kapital Asset Management in Moscow, said Dec. 10 by e-mail. “It’s in the government’s interest to let the ruble devalue but it should do it in a way that will not lead to a panic among Russians who keep money in rubles.”

Read more …

” The consensus, it would seem, views this deflationary move as one without tears. With US equities trading at 27X CAPE , that’s one hell of a bet!!”

This Has Never Happened Before Without A Drop In Stock Prices (Napier via ZH)

The Solid Ground has long flagged the importance of falling inflation expectations when nominal interest rates are so low. The Fed cannot lower nominal rates, so its control over real rates of interest rests entirely with its ability to create actual inflation or manage inflation. After five and a half years of QE, inflation expectations are very near their lows. Over the next five years investors now expect inflation to average just below 1.3%. This level of expected inflation has always previously been associated with a decline in US equity prices. There have been no exceptions until today.

THE PROWLER: Which force is currently depressing the corporations share of GDP? It is a question worth asking, because if such suppression lifts then the corporates share of GDP can go higher and, the likelihood is, share prices will go with it. While most questions in finance are difficult to answer this one is really easy because nobody and nothing is depressing the corporations share of GDP. The usual suspects for depriving the corporation of higher profits — labour, creditors and the state — are all “quiescent”, to use a word favoured by the man formerly known as ‘The Maestro’. Indeed, these forces are so quiescent that most equity investors consider them to be demons which have been slain.

THE SLEEPING TIGER: There is nothing in the historical record to equate dormancy with death when it comes to the future path of wages, interest rates or corporate taxation. For the equity bulls who choose to believe in the prolonged dormancy of labour, creditors and the state, all at the same time, history has a very clear warning that there is another potent force which can drive mean reversion of corporate profits and equity valuations – deflation. [..]

BOOM! Ultimately, just such a shock would come to many places if China tired of the monetary tightening implicit in its link to the world’s strongest currency, the USD. At some stage China will need to relax the monetary reins and this will be virtually impossible if it is tethered to a rising USD. The 1994 devaluation of the RMB wreaked havoc with the finances of China’s competitors and a similar, in fact even more powerful, dynamic is evident today. A devaluation of the RMB would thus be another trigger for a credit crisis. The consensus, it would seem, views this deflationary move as one without tears. With US equities trading at 27X CAPE , that’s one hell of a bet!!

Read more …

“The ECB is presiding over a deflationary disaster. They need to act fast and aggressively or else markets will start to attack Italian debt.” Well, and Greece, and Spain etc. Perhaps even France this time. The vigilantes played European whack-a-mole before.

France Drifts Into Deflation As ECB ‘Pea-Shooter’ Falls Short (AEP)

France is sliding into a deflationary vortex as manufacturers slash prices to keep market share, intensifying pressure on the European Central Bank to take drastic action before it is too late. The French statistics agency INSEE said core inflation fell to -0.2pc in November from a year earlier, the first time it has turned negative since modern data began. The measure strips out energy costs and is designed to “observe deeper trends” in the economy. The price goes far beyond falling oil costs and is the clearest evidence to date that the eurozone’s second biggest economy is succumbing to powerful deflationary forces. Headline inflation is still 0.3pc but is expected to plummet over the next three months. French broker Natixis said all key measures were likely to be negative by early next year.

Eurostat data show prices have fallen since April in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Holland, Belgium, Portugal, Greece and the Baltic states, as well as in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria outside the EMU bloc. Marchel Alexandrovich, from Jefferies, said the number of goods in the eurozone’s price basket now falling has reached a record 34pc. “Eurozone deflation is now inevitable. There is no way around it,” said Andrew Roberts, at RBS. “We think yields on German 10-year Bunds will fall to 0.42pc next year.” “The ECB is presiding over a deflationary disaster. They need to act fast and aggressively or else markets will start to attack Italian debt. Italy’s nominal GDP is falling faster than their borrowing costs and that is pushing them towards a debt spiral,” he added. The Bank of Italy’s governor, Ignazio Visco, said any further falls in prices at this stage could have “extremely grave consequences for economies with very high public debt levels, such as Italy”.

The trade-weighted exchange rate of the euro has risen by 2pc over the past two months as the rouble plummets and currencies buckle across the emerging market nexus, despite the ECB’s efforts to talk it down. This is a form of monetary tightening. The German-led hawks at the ECB are running out of excuses for opposing quantitative easing after demand for the ECB’s second auction of cheap four-year loans (TLTROs) fell short of expectations. “The TLTRO is a peashooter rather than a bazooka,” said Nick Kounis, at ABN Amro.
Lenders took up just €129.8bn of fresh credit, far less than €270bn of old loans due to be repaid. This means that the ECB’s balance will continue to contract – rather than expanding by €1 trillion as intended – unless it embraces full-blown QE.

Read more …

Holiday seasonal adjustment?!

WTF Chart Of The Day: Explaining The Surge In US Retail Sales (Zero Hedge)

Confused at how such awesome retail sales headlines can lead to the kind of weakness we are seeing in stocks now that Lending Club’s IPO has started trading? Wondering why bonds are now lower in yield on the day in the face of ‘proof’ that the US consumer is back? Wonder no more, as STA Wealth Management’s Lance Roberts points out, November’s seasonal adjustment for retail sales was – drum roll please – the 3rd largest on record… so maybe, just maybe, the ‘market’ is seeing through that pure riggedness, wondering about the huge surge in continuing claims, and agog at the blowout in credit spreads and collapse in crude… Seriously?!! The 3rd largest November seasonal adjustment on record… why? and remember retail sales only beat by 0.1ppt!

Speechless, yet? Well look at this…

Rigged much?

Read more …

“.. factory production will continue to slow in the first quarter of next year, while a gauge of manufacturing activity will fall below the 50 expansion-contraction line ..”

China’s Slowdown Deepens as Factory Output Growth Wanes (Bloomberg)

China’s economy slowed in November as factory shutdowns exacerbated weaker demand, raising pressure on the central bank to add further stimulus. Bloomberg’s gross domestic product tracker came in at 6.78% year-on-year in November, down from 6.91% in October and a fourth month below 7%, according to a preliminary reading. Factory production rose 7.2% from a year earlier, retail sales gained 11.7%, and investment in fixed assets expanded 15.8% in January through November from a year earlier, official data showed. The government ordered some factories to close in Beijing and surrounding provinces during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in early November to curb pollution. China’s central bank cut benchmark interest rates last month as a property slump weighs on the world’s second-biggest economy.

“The major reason for the slowdown is weak demand,” said Ding Shuang, senior China economist at Citigroup Inc. in Hong Kong. “Both external and internal demand are relatively weak.” Ding said he expects factory production will continue to slow in the first quarter of next year, while a gauge of manufacturing activity will fall below the 50 expansion-contraction line, prompting the central bank to cut banks’ required reserve ratios. “The data adds to evidence of weakness in China’s economy,” Bloomberg’s Beijing-based economist Tom Orlik wrote in a note. “The People’s Bank of China’s hands may be tied by the speculative surge on the mainland’s equity markets. Fear of adding further fuel to the fire appears to have constrained the PB0C to return to targeted measures, at least temporarily.”

Read more …

“The amount of new loans issued by Chinese banks fell by more than a third in October.”

China Tells Banks To Step Up Lending To Lift Flagging Growth (Reuters)

China has told its banks to lend more in the final months of 2014 and relaxed enforcement of loan-to-deposit ratios to expand credit, sources told Reuters, as Beijing prepares to release data that could confirm the relentless slowing of its economy. Figures on inflation, imports and fiscal spending in November have already undershot expectations since the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) sprang a surprise interest rate cut on Nov. 21, raising fears that the bid to boost lending could foreshadow more weak figures on industrial activity for the month, due on Friday, and on lending, due in the next few days. “I wouldn’t be surprised by that at all,” said Andrew Polk, resident economist for the Conference Board in Beijing. “It seems pretty clear activity is continuing to weaken throughout this fourth quarter.” Two sources with knowledge of the matter said China’s central bank increased the annual new loan target to 10 trillion yuan($1.62 trillion) for 2014, up from what Chinese media have said was a previous target of 9.5 trillion yuan.

Banks have disbursed 8.23 trillion yuan of loans between January and October, so they will have to quicken the pace in the last two months if they are to meet the new target. If upcoming data also proves worse than expected, some analysts say the PBOC could cut banks’ reserve requirement ratio (RRR) as soon as this weekend, allowing them to further increase lending. Bank lending is a crucial part of China’s monetary policy as the government instructs commercial banks, most of which are directly or indirectly controlled by the state, how much to lend and when to lend each year. The amount of new loans issued by Chinese banks fell by more than a third in October. “If credit supply is increased, it will certainly help economic growth in the first quarter,” said Chang Chun Hua, an economist at Nomura in Hong Kong. “If this is true, it shows that the government is quite concerned about growth.”

Read more …


Skepticism Jumps in Options as VIX Rises 70% in Four Days (Bloomberg)

Options traders aren’t buying the stock market’s message. While the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index posted its first gain of the week on Dec. 11, rising 0.5%, the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index also jumped, climbing 8.4% to cap its biggest four-day advance since 2011. The two gauges, one measuring share prices and the other anxiety among traders, only move in unison about 20% of the time. Investors watching oil plunge day after day are growing concerned the decline will destabilize financial markets and that’s boosting demand for hedges, according to Bob Doll, the chief equity strategist at Nuveen Asset Management. Gains in the VIX picked up after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Republicans lack the votes to pass a $1.1 trillion U.S. spending bill and urged fellow Democrats to force removal of some banking and campaign-finance provisions.

“I’d put oil front and center,” Doll said by phone. “We’ve had a move from $100 to $60, and if that had happened over a year or two that’s one thing, but this has been so much so fast that it creates higher uncertainty, which creates higher volatility, and that’s the reason you’re seeing people buy protection.” The S&P 500 and VIX haven’t posted a bigger lockstep advance since at least 2000, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. They’ve both gained on the same day on only 22 other times this year, the data show.

U.S. stocks rebounded from the worst day in eight weeks as an improvement in retail sales helped overshadow a drop in West Texas Intermediate crude below $60. The S&P 500 rose 0.5% at 4 p.m. in New York, paring an earlier rally of 1.5%. “It is unusual to see stocks rally like they did and premiums rise on the same day,” Jared Woodard, a New York-based equity derivatives strategist at BGC Partners LP, said by phone. “When the index gave back a lot of these gains you saw more demand for put protection. As stocks reversed a bit, people thought there may be another leg down.”

Read more …

“The probe into the possible use of algorithms is one of the reasons why DFS, led by Benjamin Lawsky, declined to participate in a broad forex settlement with banks.”

NY Regulator Probing Barclays And Deutsche Over Forex Algorithms (FT)

New York’s top banking regulator is investigating whether Barclays and Deutsche Bank used algorithms to manipulate foreign exchange rates, which could increase the penalties they face, a person familiar with the probe said. The state’s Department of Financial Services is reviewing whether the use of computer algorithms in bank currency trading platforms suggests a systemic problem at the lenders, as opposed to wrongdoing by several rogue traders, the person said. If the algorithms are seen as a bank-wide issue, DFS could seek to impose bigger penalties, the person added. The probe into the possible use of algorithms is one of the reasons why DFS, led by Benjamin Lawsky, declined to participate in a broad forex settlement with banks.

In November, UBS, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of America were fined more than $4bn for their role in a forex rate-rigging scandal. The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority and the US’s Commodity Futures Trading Commission were part of that settlement. But the US Department of Justice and DFS did not participate and their investigations are ongoing. The DOJ’s probe includes the six banks that were part of the broad settlement, and the investigation is expected to result in large penalties and criminal findings. DFS is investigating about a dozen banks in its forex probe. Deutsche said it had “received requests for information from regulatory authorities that are investigating trading in the foreign exchange market. The bank is co-operating with those investigations, and will take disciplinary action with regards to individuals if merited.”

Read more …

“.. both Obama and JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon were calling Democrats to support it. “It is very strange, very strange that the two of them would be working for the support of this bill ..”

US House Narrowly Passes Spending Bill, Averts Government Shutdown (Reuters)

The U.S. House of Representatives averted a government shutdown on Thursday, narrowly passing a $1.1 trillion spending bill despite strenuous Democratic objections to controversial financial provisions. The vote followed a long day of drama and discord on Capitol Hill that highlighted fraying Democratic unity and featured an uneasy alliance between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, enemies in past budget battles but on the same side this time in pushing for passage. A vote on the measure was delayed for hours after Democrats revolted against provisions to roll back part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and allow more big money political donations, while conservative Republicans objected because the measure did not block funds for Obama’s immigration order.

Democrats said Republican leaders, flexing their new political muscle after big wins in the midterm elections that will give them control of both chambers of Congress next year, had gone too far in trying to roll back Dodd-Frank. “We have enough votes to show them never to do this again,” Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi told members of her party, behind closed doors, according to a source in the room. Some Democrats also demanded the removal of a provision that allows a massive increase in individual contributions to national political parties for federal elections, potentially up to $777,600 a year.

The debate pitted Obama against Pelosi, one of his most loyal allies in Congress, as Obama and his administration waged a last-ditch campaign to persuade Democrats to set aside their objections, arguing that if it failed, the party would get a worse spending deal next year under Republican control. The effort to save the bill angered some Democrats, who complained that both Obama and JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon were calling Democrats to support it. “It is very strange, very strange that the two of them would be working for the support of this bill,” said Representative Maxine Waters, the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. In the 219-206 vote, 67 Republicans rejected the spending bill, largely because it failed to take action to stop Obama’s executive immigration order. But that was offset by 57 Democrats who voted in favor.

Read more …

“The three-judge panel not only found that prosecutors needed to prove a trader knew that the original source of non-public information has received a benefit in exchange for the tip, but also narrowed what actually constituted such a benefit.”

US Prosecutors Face New Fallout From Insider Trading Ruling (Reuters)

U.S. prosecutors, already smarting from an appeals court ruling that weakens their ability to crack down on future insider trading, on Thursday faced widening fallout from the decision as some existing cases threatened to unravel. Lawyers for some defendants hinted they might seek to withdraw guilty pleas, and a Manhattan federal judge questioned if four such pleas were affected. The moves were the latest repercussions from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals finding that prosecutors presented insufficient evidence to convict Todd Newman, a former portfolio manager at Diamondback Capital Management, and Anthony Chiasson, co-founder of Level Global Investors. Speaking at a conference, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White said Thursday “there is no question it’s a significant decision,” adding her agency was reviewing the Wednesday ruling, which she called “overly narrow.”

Some defendants who cooperated and pleaded guilty in the prosecution of Newman and Chiasson are now considering taking the extraordinary step of withdrawing their pleas, two lawyers said Thursday. The three-judge panel not only found that prosecutors needed to prove a trader knew that the original source of non-public information has received a benefit in exchange for the tip, but also narrowed what actually constituted such a benefit. In several such cases, the defendants were tipped based on information they received third- or fourth-hand, rather than straight from the source, which made it tougher to prove their awareness that source had obtained something tangible in return. The ruling threatens to challenge a broad insider trading crackdown underway since 2009 under Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office during his tenure has secured 82 other convictions.

Read more …

As another headline today at the Guardian says: “UK standard of living rises to fourth highest in EU”.

Welcome To The UK: DIY Burials And Payday Loans For Kids (CNBC)

The tight financial conditions faced by Brits were highlighted again this week with reports on how cash-strapped young people are using payday loans and impoverished relatives are burying their loved ones at home. One in eight young people say they have borrowed money from lending firms, according to a new report released Thursday by the U.K. children’s charity Action for Children. The report interviewed 1,058 people in focus groups between the ages of 12 and 18 and found that 41% of those that had borrowed had done so with payday loan providers. The charity also found that store cards are also be used more and more, with over a third of the young people saying they had used them. Its anecdotal evidence suggested that young people were using the debt to replace household goods, set up their first home or to keep up with their friends.

“Baffling financial jargon and a lack of knowledge will dramatically create a vicious circle of debt, increasing the risk of mental health problems and unemployment,” said Tony Hawkhead, the chief executive of Action for Children, in Thursday’s report. Payday loan companies have been heavily criticized by policymakers in the U.K. for the four-figure interest rates they tie to cash advances. Regulators have moved to introduce new rules to cap charges and these firms have made changes to their lending criteria in response. The companies stress they have strict rules on who can receive loans, with the minimum age being 18 years. However the breakdown within Thursday’s study shows that minors are receiving these loans with 46% of the 12-year-old respondents saying they had borrowed money from a payday lender.

Read more …

Take your pick. Much more of this to come in the weeks ahead.

Crystal Ball: Top 10 Economic Predictions For 2015 (CNBC)

The global economy muddled along this year, with the resurgence in the U.S. economy helping to offset slowing growth in Europe, Japan and China. So, where does this leave the world economy in 2015? “Positive fundamentals are in place for the momentum in the global economy to improve during 2015,” said Nariman Behraves, Chief Economist at IHS, which expects global growth to pick up to 3% from an estimated 2.7% this year.

IHS outlined its top 10 economic predictions that make up its global outlook:
1. U.S. economy will power ahead
2. Euro zone’s struggle to continue
3. Japan to emerge from recession
4. China will keep slowing
5. EMs: a mixed bag
6. Commodities slide to extend
7. Disinflation threat
8. Fed will be the first to hike rates
9. Dollar will remain king
10. Perennial downside risks easing

The global recovery has been plagued by a multitude of “curses” during the past few years, including high public- and private-sector debt levels that have necessitated deleveraging by households corporates and governments, says IHS. But these obstacles to growth are easing in some countries, notably the U.S and U.K., which explains their better-than-average performance.

Read more …

Strong piece from Patrick Smith, former Asia bureau chief of the Herald Tribune.

These Are Lies The New York Times Wants You To Believe About Russia (Salon)

You can look at the Russian economy two ways now and you should. So let’s: It is an important moment in the destruction of something and the construction of something else, and we had better be clear just what in both cases. The world we live in changes shape as we speak. Truth No. 1: Russians are besieged. Sanctions the West has insisted on prosecuting in response to the Ukraine crisis — Washington in the lead, the Europeans reluctant followers — are hitting hard, let there be no question. Oil prices are at astonishing lows, probably if not yet provably manipulated by top operatives in the diplomatic and political spheres.

Truth No. 2: Russians are hot. With an energetic activism just as astonishing as the oil prices, Russian officials, President Putin in the very visible lead but with platoons of technocrats behind him, are forging an extensive network of South-South relationships — East-East, if you prefer — that are something very new under the sun. Some of us were banging on about South-South trade and diplomatic unity as far back as the 1970s; I have anticipated the arriving reality since the early years of this century. But I would never have predicted the pace of events as we have them before us. Stunning. Holiday surprise: There is a Truth No. 3 and it is this: Truth No. 1, the siege of the Russian economy, is proving a significant catalyst in the advance of Truth No. 2, the creative response of a nation under ever-mounting pressure.

Timothy Snyder, the Yale professor whose nitwittery on the Ukraine crisis is simply nonpareil (and praise heaven he has gone quiet), exclaimed some months ago that Putin is threatening to undermine the entire postwar order. I replied in this space the following week, Gee, if only it were so. Already it seems to be. But miss this not: Russia is advancing this world-historical turn with a considerable assist from its adversaries in the West, not alone. For all the pseuds who pretend to know Schumpeter but know only one thing, the creative destruction bit, how is this as a prime example of the phenom? Details in a sec, but this thought first: We are all bound to pay close attention to these events because they matter to everyone, whether this is yet obvious or not. Probably in our lifetimes — and I had it further out until recently — we will begin to inhabit a different planet.

Read more …

We deserve all we’ve got coming.

Full Scale Of Plastic In The World’s Oceans Revealed For First Time (Guardian)

More than five trillion pieces of plastic, collectively weighing nearly 269,000 tonnes, are floating in the world’s oceans, causing damage throughout the food chain, new research has found. Data collected by scientists from the US, France, Chile, Australia and New Zealand suggests a minimum of 5.25tn plastic particles in the oceans, most of them “micro plastics” measuring less than 5mm. The volume of plastic pieces, largely deriving from products such as food and drink packaging and clothing, was calculated from data taken from 24 expeditions over a six-year period to 2013. The research, published in the journal PLOS One, is the first study to look at plastics of all sizes in the world’s oceans.

Large pieces of plastic can strangle animals such as seals, while smaller pieces are ingested by fish and then fed up the food chain, all the way to humans. This is problematic due to the chemicals contained within plastics, as well as the pollutants that plastic attract once they are in the marine environment. “We saw turtles that ate plastic bags and fish that ingested fishing lines,” said Julia Reisser, a researcher based at the University of Western Australia. “But there are also chemical impacts. When plastic gets into the water it acts like a magnet for oily pollutants. “Bigger fish eat the little fish and then they end up on our plates. It’s hard to tell how much pollution is being ingested but certainly plastics are providing some of it.”

The researchers collected small plastic fragments in nets, while larger pieces were observed from boats. The northern and southern sections of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans were surveyed, as well as the Indian ocean, the coast of Australia and the Bay of Bengal. The vast amount of plastic, weighing 268,940 tonnes, includes everything from plastic bags to fishing gear debris. While spread out around the globe, much of this rubbish accumulates in five large ocean gyres, which are circular currents that churn up plastics in a set area. Each of the major oceans have plastic-filled gyres, including the well-known ‘great Pacific garbage patch’ that covers an area roughly equivalent to Texas.

Read more …